About halfway through our 10 am Sunday worship we always have a children’s procession so that the children can join their parents for Holy Communion.
As we sang this Sunday, Bishop Katharine walked down and marched with the kids. And then as they sat around the Holy Table, she leaned down and blessed each child on his or her forehead, one by one.
As it happens, Iris Potter, our Sunday School director, had taught a lesson that morning about how Jesus touched Peter, and then Peter touched others, and they became the leaders of the Church. After Katharine blessed our children, they ran to Iris and asked her if they were now the leaders of the Church.
Bishop Katharine implored us to keep our outward focus, to minister to each other and to the world beyond our walls, to fear nothing – to “Be Bold!”
She talked precious little about Episcopal Church politics.
Over the course of three days, Katharine shared dinner with teenagers, a potluck lunch with the St. Paul’s clergy, and a banquet table with the president-elect of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan. We discovered Katharine has a weakness for macaroni-and-cheese and strong Starbucks coffee.
Despite a snowstorm, more than 200 of you made it to our Centennial banquet. There was something electric about seeing so many of you in your finest clothing waiting to greet her in the banquet hall. I am only sorry that more of you were unable to get through the snow to be with us (and we videoed all of it just for you).
Those moments of friendship with us were many:
That evening, Bishop Katharine shared macaroni-and-cheese with teenage youth groups from St. Paul’s and several other Episcopal churches in the area. Katharine and the teens sang a few camp songs in the chapel, and then Katharine took their questions.
She was asked to share some of her own life story; she told beginning life as a Roman Catholic and coming to the Episcopal Church as a teenager. She went to Stanford University in California, and later earned a Ph.D in oceanography from Oregon State University. Later, as her career as a scientist wound down, members of her congregation told her she ought to be a priest, an idea she first found improbable. My wife Lori and I got to know her when she was a seminarian in Berkeley at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
On Saturday morning, the schedule called for a private luncheon with the Presiding Bishop and the St. Paul’s clergy at the University of Virginia Colonnade Club. But with the snow heavily falling, we went to Plan B – soup and sandwiches at the church. That turned out to be one of the most enchanting moments of the weekend.
Katharine, in her blue jeans, walked over to the parish hall, and before we knew it she was picking up flower trimmings from the floor with our Flower Guild.
Meanwhile, John Reid, Tony Potter, Virginia Ritchie and a large cast worked tirelessly to get us ready for the banquet despite the snowstorm. They made dozens of phone calls, made sure the parking lot at Alumni Hall would be plowed and the caterer able to feed us.
There was something about the snowstorm that gave the banquet a forceful energy. It started with the line of snow boots in the entry hall and ended with those who lingered for one more photograph or one more signature in a prayer book. Those who got to the banquet hall were utterly determined to be there no matter what, and no one was in a rush to leave.
At the banquet, we showed a 14-minute documentary about St. Paul’s, produced and written by Bruce Carveth, Paula Kettlewell, Bob Gibson and Sarah McConnell. The film told of the courage of those who built St. Paul’s, and pointed toward the future of our ministry.
Bishop Katharine then spoke eloquently to us about our mission as witnesses of God’s reconciling love in our own time. She tied our work in caring pastorally for each other with our work caring for the community and the world around us; all of it interrelated. More broadly, she gave us a glimpse of the connection we that we share with the whole of The Episcopal Church in 19 nations.
We pulled out all the stops for the 10 am worship service, and close to 400 people filled the pews. How they found a parking space on the snowy streets is a mystery to me.
The procession of acolytes, candles (and our new banner!), choir and the clergy of St. Paul’s was as spectacular as the morning sunshine.
In her time with us, Bishop Katharine answered dozens and dozens of questions, and she never seemed to grow weary. After the 10 am worship, she fielded another wave of questions at a parish forum.
She was asked about the proposed “Anglican Covenant” that has been steadily pushed by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, as an attempt to quell the conflicts in the Anglican Communion of which we are the American constituent branch (you can read the proposed covenant by clicking HERE).
Katharine termed the proposal “an Enlightenment solution to a Post-modern problem.” She said the covenant is an attempt to put boundaries on innovation and impose a more hierarchical structure on the Anglican Communion with more authority for bishops. She termed that as anti-ethical to the traditions of Anglicanism, and noted that had there been such a covenant 30 years ago there would be no women priests or bishops now.
She was asked whether we will be “out of communion” with the rest of the Anglican Communion if we don’t endorse the proposed covenant.
She replied that we are already “out of communion” because several national provinces do not recognize the ordination of women, or recognize her as a bishop, or recognize anyone -- male or female -- whom she has ordained.
“I’m the problem” for those provinces, she noted.
I found her answers direct; she never equivocated or candy-coated anything; she said what she thinks, and challenged the rest of us to think more deeply and hold our faith more courageously. And she implored us to keep a wide tent, to give room to those who disagree, especially to those who disagree with her.
In the three days we enjoyed with her, I was much struck by how she absorbed the best that is St. Paul’s, and the greatness of this congregation when we are fulfilling our mandate to build God’s kingdom on earth. She synthesized who we are and who we can be in her sermon, and I end this reflection with her words:
The ability to tell those hard truths has something to do with courage, and a deep connectedness to God and all of God’s creation: the courage that St. Paul’s had right after the Second World War to challenge others in this community to contribute to rebuilding churches in Europe, the courage to say no to Harry Byrd’s program of
massive resistance to integrated schools, the courage to host a prayer vigil during the Viet Nam war, and the courage to say keep on saying yes to all comers in this community. Your next hundred years will be built on that kind of courage to speak truth, to pluck up and pull down human structures of injustice, and to build and plant a community of peace.
You will continue to be prophets here as long as you notice the hungry and figure out how to feed people, as long as you reach out to students who might not otherwise get here – how about inviting young people from Haiti or Liberia to apply for Skinner scholarships? The vision from Isaiah that Jesus read, the truth he proclaimed that nearly got him lynched in Nazareth, is the courageous truth we share – a healed and healing world. Prophets may be quaking in their boots, like Martin Luther King the night his house was bombed, but they keep on speaking, and they keep on moving toward God’s perfection.
May your words and deeds be bold!Photos by Bonny Bronson. There are more photos from the weekend by parishioners on the St. Paul's website; you can view the photos by clicking HERE. Send more and we'll post them.